Mandy Clark, center, gives pointers to her two children, Lindsey Ruth, 6, left, and Ellis, 14, as they pitch in on the prep for a homemade carrot cake Sunday at the family home in New Hope. Through the Facebook page for Elliru's Baking, Clark accepts requests for her cakes and breads. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
A fresh pecan pie pound cake loaf is topped with brown sugar, pecans and caramel.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
A made-from-scratch pound cake baked by Clark from her grandmother Earnesteen Butler's recipe cools on the dining table Sunday.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
Mandy Clark, left, gets a lesson in making homemade seven-minute icing from her grandmother Earnesteen Butler. Both of Clark's grandmothers influenced her love of baking.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
September 28, 2016 10:28:55 AM
Aromas filling Mandy Clark's kitchen Sunday evening were as inviting as any gourmet bakery. Freshly-made breads and cakes covered the dining table and kitchen countertops in her New Hope home. Some were already snugly encased in plastic wrap, some were still cooling. A pound cake in the oven was sending out its own fragrant siren call.
The day's marathon baking was largely in service of a youth fundraiser, something Clark does from time to time to help softball or soccer players or dance team members raise monies. She was also filling orders for signature specialties like her chocolate chip pecan loaves, butterscotch snickerdoodle bread, banana pumpkin chocolate chip loaves and coffee pecan bread.
Most weekends and many nights will find the instructional design specialist with Mississippi State's Research and Curriculum Unit baking for other people. It's a hobby that Clark calls Elliru's Baking, and it all started with her grandmother's carrot cake recipe.
"My late grandmother Jean Duncan -- MeMe -- always made her carrot cake for us," began Clark, a former Columbus Middle School assistant principal. "When she got sick with cancer and couldn't make them any more, I took over the carrot cake for family Thanksgivings and Christmases."
Clark also began making a few to occasionally give to friends or to donate to silent auctions. Before long, she was receiving requests for the flavorful cake.
"I never really sold a cake until I tried to come up with some way to help support my kids when I unexpectedly became a single mom," said Clark, who was a teacher at the time. "I didn't want them to have to give up activities; I knew I had to get another job, and I didn't want to be away from them at night."
She decided to give baking a go in June 2015 and see what would happen.
"I put it out on Facebook, and just started with the carrot cake," the baker said. Response was swift. Clark would often start baking around 9 p.m., after the kids went to bed. Sometimes she was there until late into the night. She soon added old-fashioned pound cakes made from her grandmother Earnesteen Butler's recipe to the offerings and came up with the name Elliru's Baking, combining the names of her children -- Ellis, 14, and Lindsey Ruth, 6.
"The entire reason for Elliru's is Lindsey Ruth and Ellis," Clark said.
Both of Clark's grandmothers were a major influence on her love of baking, reinforcing her commitment to make everything homemade, "because scratch cake tastes very different from cake out of a box."
"I watched both ladies my entire life cook and bake from scratch," said Clark. Her late MeMe once even wanted the two of them to do some catering together.
Grandmother Butler (of pound cake fame) now lives in a retirement center, but at 85 years young, she delighted her granddaughter by spending a summer day in Clark's kitchen with her, teaching the art of making homemade seven-minute icing and coconut cake.
"Quite a few of the recipes I use are theirs," Clark said affectionately of her grandmothers.
Requests for carrot and pound cakes, and items like pumpkin, banana, cinnamon, zucchini and apple cinnamon breads and her specialty bread loaves for everything from teacher gifts to tailgates keep Clark busy, but she also makes hummingbird cakes and takes custom orders.
"I've made blue velvet and pink velvet cakes for baby showers, special cakes for a wedding, and heart-shaped breads and cakes for occasions such as Valentine's." She even learned how to make orange slice candy cakes for an elder gentleman who used to enjoy them when he was younger.
Clark was a vendor at the Hitching Lot Farmers' Market this past summer and plans to be at the Holiday Farmers' Market there Nov. 19 from 9 a.m. to noon. Requests for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are already coming in for her baked goods that generally range in price from $5 to $50.
And still, she helps kids with fundraisers. She is especially sensitive to the circumstances of single mothers whose children need to raise funds for uniforms, trips or other activity-related expenses.
"I'm a single mom, and I know it's really hard at times," Clark said. "I know what it's like to want your kids to be able to be involved."
Her mother, Mott Ellis (also a great cook, said Mandy), remarked, "Mandy is a hard worker, and we are so proud of her. She is determined to do it on her own and not ask for help. God is using her in a wonderful way and as a testimony to so many."
On Sunday, Clark had a little help from her children while prepping to make a carrot cake. Ellis chopped while Lindsey Ruth enthusiastically grated a carrot. Both have learned about much more than just baking through their mom's hobby that bears both their names.
"Ellis has learned about money and time management," Clark said, "and it has taught them both the importance of needing versus wanting something."
And, then, of course, there's the part that's pure fun, shared with 6-year-old glee by Lindsey Ruth: "We get to be the lickers!"
Editor's note: Mandy Clark may be contacted through the Facebook page facebook.com/ellirusbaking.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.